SALEM, Ore. – After ten years of effort, immigrant rights advocates are celebrating the final vote to give in-state tuition rates to some undocumented students. The Oregon Senate approved the bill Thursday and Governor John Kitzhaber says he plans to sign it.
Supporters call it “tuition-equity”. It’s drawn hundreds to the Capitol for a series of emotional hearings since February.
The bill would offer some undocumented students temporary resident status in Oregon. That would qualify them for the much cheaper in-state tuition rates at state universities. The students must have studied in the U.S. for five years, and attended an Oregon high school for at least three years.
The chief sponsor is Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney. He says the students who qualify for the program had no control over their parents’ decisions to bring them to the United States when they were young.
“Are these children still strangers in our land, are they strangers? If they are, if they are strangers, let us be the adults that do right by them," Courtney says. "Let us say to them, come with us, you’re no longer strangers, you’re one of us, we’re in this together.”
But critics anticipate lawsuits saying this would give an unfair advantage to undocumented students over legal residents of other states. That’s why Republican Senator Doug Whitsett voted no on the measure.
“Many of the people that we represent have a lot of angst about this bill," he says. "Many are angry about what they perceive to be the inequity represented by the concept of this bill.”
After the Senate vote 19-11 in favor, cheers echoed through the Capital.
27-year old Jaime Limon-Guzman was among the crowd. He dropped out of college because he couldn’t afford the out-of-state cost he was charged as an undocumented student. But he says the future looks bright for those around him.
“To see my cousin Gustavo qualify for it, my little brother will qualify for it, a lot of friends and family will qualify for in-state tuition.”
According to a fiscal impact report, about 38 students are expected to take advantage of the in-state tuition program during the 2013-2015 biennium. That number is forecast to rise to 80 in the following two years.
Governor John Kitzhaber says he’s looking forward to signing the bill into law.
If the bill is challenged in court, one provision says it will go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court.
On the Web:
HB 2787: In-state tuition for undocumented students - Oregon Legislature